The Permaculture Podcast

    Episode 1512: Beginning Foraging with Violet and Wildman Steve Brill

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    My guests for this episode are Violet Brill and her father “Wildman” Steve Brill.

    Violet and Steve are foragers from New York. Violet assists her father on his plant tours, leading groups of people and teaching them about wild edibles. “Wildman” Steve, in addition to his tours and workshops, is the author of multiple books on foraging including Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places, The Wild Vegan Cookbook, and Foraging with Kids.

    We use beginning foragers, including children, as the focus for this interview. We mostly discuss plants and mushrooms that are easy to identify and do not have any poisonous look-similars. We do include an example, which is wild carrot versus poison hemlock, to show that with care and a firm understanding of a plant you can identify and safely harvest edibles. We must pay attention however to do so.

    As this is part of the series on foraging and wild foods, once you’ve listened to this episode I recommend going back through the archives and listening to the other shows including those with Dan De Lion, Sam Thayer, and Arthur Haines. Together they will provide you with a well rounded perspective on how to come to a knowledge of plants in the wild.

    You can find out more about Violet and Steve at Also, if you have an iOS or Android smartphone, check out Wild Edibles and the Foraging Flashcard series. They are reasonably priced ways to begin learning more about wild plants wherever you are, and Wild Edibles is a go-anywhere field guide.

    This interview reminds me of the role that a teacher can play in building confidence for a student to explore further. It was a friend of mine who mentioned Steve during a conversation she and I were having about foraging plants to make wild teas, as she had taken a class from him. Going on a foraging trip like this can allow you to taste some of these wild foods in a safe way and begin to have an understanding of the plants, without just grabbing a field guide and just trying to go out to eat. You get that first experience and can then learn and research more before going out solo. So slow down, take a few classes, spend time with your field guides, and then get started on your own.

    I also like Steve’s approach to not forcing Violet to share his diet, but allowing her to explore her options while ensuring that she eats good healthy foods along the way. I see this as also extending to the way we teach our children. Include them in your activities, but also include yourself in theirs and encourage and support them to pursue their own interests, or help them to find mentors and teachers who can.

    In this conversation Steve also provides solid simple encouragement to gradually begin eating this way. This reinforces slow and small solutions in all that we do, from dietary to landscape changes. Take a few bites of something, see whether you enjoy it or it causes a bit of upset, then decide whether more is right for you.

    Finally, there was Steve’s story of Joe foraging for mushrooms and the importance of asking if we can harvest something. In the more specific sense, by contacting a landowner, but also by observing the plants around us and asking ourselves whether or not this is the right environment to harvest from. If there are only one or two plants, then perhaps we should leave them alone, or if they are rare encourage growth by dispersing seed and coming back in later years to see if there is enough to harvest.

    From a permaculture perspective one of the reasons I love foraging as an activity comes from my exploration of the environmental education writers such as David Orr or David Sobel. Both of them talk about establishing a sense of place, a connection to where we live. Rather than teaching children, or for that matter adults, about the plights of far off places, let us foster an understanding of our own bioregion and biome. Foraging is an active activity that gets us out into the world looking at what grows there. While trying to identify one plant, by slowly reading and integrating our field guides, we are likely to begin to recognize non-edible plants, as well as rare or interesting medicinals. We begin to know, understand, and then care for this space more fully by returning to nature and the wilder world, and in the process begin to rewild ourselves.

    From this conversation, next week is Peter Michael Bauer, of Rewild Portland, to discuss rewilding. We touch on that topic as the overarching theme, and also explore the impacts of civilization and how to prepare for the collapse we currently inhabit. It is a rather intense, but enjoyable, interview.

    If you haven’t already you should join in the Traveling Permaculture Library Project by emailing your name and address to Matt Winters, who is the new librarian for the project. You can reach him at:

    By doing so you will receive a random book related to permacutlure, the natural world, and environment. All I ask is that once you receive a book and read it, to email Matt back and pass it along. Each book includes a sticker in the front cover with more information to make this process easier.

    If at any point along the way I can help you, get in touch. Call: 717-827-6266 or Email:

    I’m also continuing to look for opportunities to take the show on the road and to record more live in-person interviews. Use that phone number or email address to get in touch if you would like to host or have someone in mind to get in touch with.

    Finally, a few announcements before drawing this episode to a close.

    This show, as I mention in the introduction to each show, is completely listener supported. So I need your help to keep the show on the air. The best way to do that right now is through recurring contributions with Patreon. Because this show exists in a digital world, I’ve reworked the rewards and the goals to make them more reasonable and clear, including the goal of raising $2700 a month to make this show a full time endeavor. I’m want to reach that goal by June 1 of this year, and am currently at $68 a month.

    Please sign up if you are able as all support is now on a monthly rather than per episode basis and you can become a patron of the podcast for as little as $1. That entry level support allows allows you to receive episodes early and without commercials. You won’t hear announcements like this in the Patreon episodes, or from sponsors should I take any on. You can find out more about that, as well as where I’m at and what my goals are, at

    If you are not in a place to give, I completely understand. I’ll keep on keeping on as long as I can, and you can always lend a hand by sharing links with your friends. Retweet or reply to tweets on twitter, where I am @permaculturecst, or join in the conversations on facebook.

    From here I have a class announcement for my friends and colleagues Wilson Alvarez and Ben Weiss. They’re running a Permaculture Design Course in Harrisburg Pennsylvania beginning in April 25 and running on weekends through October.

    I’m also looking to go back through the archives and re-release some more “Best Of….” episodes with new introductions and endings to share some of the more popular guests in new ways. Let me know if there are any particular episodes that stand out to you that you would like to hear as part of that series.

    That about covers it for now. Until the next time, spend each day creating a better world, the world you want to live in, but taking care of earth, your self, and each other.

    Wildman Steve Brill
    Wildman Steve Brill’s Books

    Dan De Lion’s Interview
    Sam Thayer’s Interview
    Arthur Haines’ Interview (1)
    Arthur Haines (2)


    1. ViviVivi
      May 29, 2015    

      The part about simply storing walnuts in a shopping bag and they will last forever is nonsense. I have a large walnut tree in my garden. I have to dry the nuts (without the green shells) spread out in one layer on newspaper in a dry boiler room for 2 weeks, and then store them in an airy net in the same dry room. And still half the harvest turns out moldy when I crack them (by the looks of it, half a dozen different kinds of mold). Harvested in october, they’re usually eadible starting in early december (the taste changes with drying – fresh walnuts are unpleasantly acidic). But if I don’t get around to eating all of them that winter, they’ll be infested with a kind of moth larvae by next summer and are only fit for bird feed the next winter. (Maybe you don’t have that parasite in the US?) Also, nuts contain a lot of fat and all fats get rancid with time. I find store-bought walnuts often taste rancid, especially shelled ones in trail mix.

      Since you don’t mention this factor in your warnings about what to think of when foraging: Do you not have the kind of nature reserve where it’s illegal to pick plants (any plants, not specific endangered species) in the US? I live in a country where 40% of the territory is under some kind of protection – usually it’s just a bird sanctuary or a “protected typical landscape” where you can incur heavy fines for spreading non-indigenous plants or for felling a lot of trees at once (these “typical landscapes” may very well just be commercial pine monocultures like the one that’s been surrounding my town for most of a century), but the few semi-old growth forests (read: cultivated several centuries ago – there are nearly no real old-growth forests in Europe) or moors and such are protected hardcore. I suppose draconian blanket bans from altering nature reserves in any form may not be necessary in a thinly settled area like North America yet?

      • June 15, 2015    

        Regarding your questions. In Pennsylvania I have never encountered moth larvae that infest black walnuts.

        The rules vary widely on harvesting plants depending on the local, state, or federal jurisdictions that apply to a particular piece of land. Most of those rules are easy to find on posted signs or the website for the land in question. There is, however, a general view held in US natural resources law and policy, as well as the culture, that land is to be available for the benefit of the people, be that a park or wilderness, so there are fewer restrictions placed on open spaces.

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